Thursday, April 26, 2018
PGA Tour Preview: Make it a Double in New Orleans
At one point in the final round in the Valero Texas Open, 30-year-old Andrew Landry held a 4-shot lead. By the time he teed off on the 12th hole, his margin was down to 1 over Trey Mullinax, a one-time teammate of Justin Thomas at two-time NCAA national champion Alabama. Both Landry and Mullinax were looking for their first Tour victory and all that comes with it. A number of capable challengers were in pursuit, including major champions Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker.
Although not in contention for the lead, former top amateur in the world Joaquin Niemann served notice to the golf world, finishing in the top 10 in his first event as a professional. He birdied his last three holes on Sunday for a second consecutive round of 67. It was a very impressive debut. About 30 minutes after Niemann holed out on 18, Andrew Landry sunk an eight-foot par putt to best Mullinax and Sean O'Hair by 2 shots.
Mullinax saw any realistic chance at victory end when he dumped his approach shot to the short par-4 17th in the green side bunker and made a bogey to fall two shots back. Landry, who lost to Jon Rahm in a playoff earlier in the season, rose to ninth in the FedEx Cup standings.
New Orleans, Louisiana
TPC at Louisiana - Par 72
Last year, the Zurich Classic changed the tournament's format to a FedEx Cup team event. The field is comprised of 80 two-man teams that will compete in two rounds each of alternate shot (first and third rounds) and four-ball (second and fourth rounds) competition. The top 80 individuals in the Zurich Classic qualification rankings earned exemptions and were allowed to pick their partner. Even though FedEx Cup points are awarded, no Official World Golf Ranking points will be and the winners will not get an invitation to the Masters.
The top 35 teams and ties will qualify for the weekend. Nineteen teams return from last year, but numerous players are playing again with different partners. As a departure from the staid PGA Tour standards, each team will be able to choose its own walk up song for the Zurich. Nice touch.
Teams to Watch
Jordan Spieth (28th in FedEx Cup points) and Ryan Palmer (84) — This team finished fourth last year and decided to give it another shot. Between this event and the international team competitions, Spieth has valuable experience. Palmer is a steady partner and these two should be in the mix again.
Bubba Watson (3) and Matt Kuchar (58) — Kuchar didn't participate last year, but Watson teamed with J.B. Holmes and finished in a tie for fifth. Both of these players have experience in international competition, so the steady Kuchar should team well with the more volatile and creative Watson. On paper, they have the third best combined FedEx Cup point standing in the field.
Jim Furyk (144) and David Duval (NR) — Duval, despite 13 Tour wins and a major championship, doesn't play much competitive golf. At the age of 47, Furyk is still active on Tour. With Duval's limited play, it would be quite a surprise to see this team in the mix.
Sergio Garcia (86) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (42) — Garcia is coming off a couple of missed cuts, but the pair of Spaniards should be dangerous duo. This will definitely be a team to look at if Cabrera Bello makes the European Ryder Cup team later this year.
Justin Thomas (1) and Bud Cauley (61) — This team ranks just below Watson/Kuchar in combined FedEx Cup standing and finished in a tie for fifth last year. Thomas is playing as well as he did a year ago and Cauley is solid. With Thomas' competitive fire, look for this team to contend.
Patrick Reed (6) and Patrick Cantlay (15) — Reed is making his first start since his Masters win. We'll get to see if he still has any hangover from the big major victory. If he does, a team event might be the best way to work through it. Cantlay is an intense young player, so the pair should be dialed into the competition. They finished in a tie for 14th a year ago, but both are playing better. They have the best combined FedEx Cup standing. This is also one of those potentially future Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup pairings.
Jimmy Walker (87) and Sean O'Hair (60) — Both of these players finished in the top five last week at the Valero Texas Open and will be coming into the Zurich on a hot streak. They played together in the final round last week as well, giving them some good chemistry entering the team event. Walker appears to have finally regained his form after battling Lyme disease for much of the past year.
Henrik Stenson (37) and Justin Rose (8) — It's hard to believe that these guys missed the cut in this event last year, but they're both dialed in recently and should be around for the weekend. They'll definitely be looking at this as a possible tune-up for the Ryder Cup.
Jason Durfer (111) and Pat Perez (18) — This should be an interesting pair to watch, with the laid back Dufner alongside Perez, who shows a lot of emotion on the course. There are times I don't even think Dufner cares what's happening. Demeanor aside, both of these players have game and should make some noise, or at least Perez will, on the weekend.
Ian Poulter (26) and Graeme McDowell (124) — Poulter finished off a six-week run at Hilton Head a couple of weeks ago, then took a week off. He's a great in match play and he and McDowell bring Ryder Cup experience to New Orleans. Never count Poulter out in this kind of event, but McDowell will have to play better than he's shown lately if he's going to give his teammate some assistance.
Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker — Both of these players are splitting time between the PGA Tour Champions and the PGA Tour. They teamed up last week in the Champions Legends of Golf and finished in a tie for fifth. Stricker's putter wasn't too sharp on Sunday, but having a recent team tournament under their belts should be an advantage. They were good enough last year to finish in a tie for 14th against a field of youngsters.
Cameron Smith (25) and Jonas Blixt (162) — Last year's winners return to defend, but Blixt hasn't been hitting on all cylinders, while Smith has taken his game to another level this year.
Jon Rahm (7) and Wesley Bryan (153) — I'm interested to see how Rahm keeps his composure in the alternate shot, as he will almost certainly be on the European Ryder Cup team in the fall. He's playing so well, there's a chance he can carry this team to a good finish, regardless of Bryan's play.
Scott Brown (101) and Kevin Kisner (31) — This team lost in a playoff in last year's Zurich, so maybe they can recapture the chemistry.
Chesson Hadley (24) and Brice Garnett (51) — Hadley is having a quietly terrific season. Garnett only has one top-10, but it happens to be a win. This is a dark horse team for me.
Brendan Steele (12) and Jamie Lovemark (73) — Steele has been really solid this season, with a win in the first event and making nine of 10 cuts since. His partner this week is a good player that could give these two a chance to contend.
Gary Woodland (22) and Daniel Berger (66) — Since winning the Waste Management, Woodland hasn't been sharp. Although Berger only has one missed cut this season, he also has just a lone top-10 finish. Both of these guys can bomb it off the tee, even though that's been a bit of an issue for Berger. If they get hot, the rest of the field should take note.
Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.